Predatory tendencies? A real "fish story."

Someone asked me the other day about setting up an aquarium for predatory fishes...Pike Chiclids...She had a really cool idea planned out and the tank will be amazing.

(Crenicichla punctata- pic by Claudo D. Timm, used under CC by SA-2.0)

However, it made me reflect a bit on my personal fish keeping taste, and I admit it:

I've never been a huge fan of predatory fishes.

You know, the ones where it's "suggested" that you have to feed them other fish. I just can't bring myself to do it. Once I got out of the typical male post-pubescent sadistic period, the thought of feeding fishes to other fishes just made me...uncomfortable. I mean, even the term "feeder guppy" is just kind of depressing to me.

I mean,  it's not like I have this high moral code or something that keeps me from keeping big, predatory fishes in my tank, or that I'm somehow "squeamish" or something...Although my wife laughs at me when I find a cricket in the house and carefully take it outside and tell it, "You can live. You just can't live HERE!" Because she knows that the cricket wouldn't stand a chance if she found it first!  So it goes without saying that I'd "wuss out" on the idea of having to feed my fish other living fishes. 

Yeah, I'm the kid who would go the fish store and attempt to select "breeding stock" from a tank of feeder guppies (the LFS employees LOVED that), or who had more than his fair share of "feeder goldfish" as pets growing up. Now, my apparent "Gahndi-like" compassion doesn't seem to spread to creatures like brine shrimp, Daphnia, worms, and assorted flies. I hate flies; vile creatures...I'm happy to feed a freshly-swatted fly to my characins...See, I can be selectively harsh!

A few of my closest geeky fish friends and I had this running joke for a while, which we stole from a scene in a TV show, that we'd use at a restaurant  when the server would ask if anyone had any "special dietary requirements." One of us would say, "I'm a pesca-pescatarian. I only eat fish that eat other fishes.." With a perfectly straight face. It usually got us a puzzled look and was good for a laugh among us geeks, but then again, we're an easy bunch to entertain.


And hey, if you've ever been on the other side of the menu before, you'll understand my "anti-feeder fish" stance better.  it sucks to be prey. As a lifelong surfer, I've seen a few sharks before. In fact, I remember surfing in Moorea, French Polynesia, a bunch of years ago, and being taken out on a launch to surf my own stretch of reef. Well, me and this Aussie guy about 1/2 mile away.

I remember at the last minute that my Tahitian boat driver made a casual mention in broken French-English, just before I jumped into the water; something like, "Don't worry about the sharks. They stay to themselves and are friendly. I'll pick you up in two hours. Stay lined up with the group of Palms on the point and you'll be fine." Okay, yeah, here I am, this surfer from L.A., bobbing around in a lagoon almost a mile out, with the nearest other idiot 1/2 mile away!  "Friendly" sharks? Really? This cool surf getaway suddenly wasn't that cool! Looking down at the assortment of 6-foot Grey and Blacktip Reef Sharks swarming 20 feet below me, no doubt thinking about their next meal, was powerful incentive to catch as many waves as possible, even ones which broke precariously over a nearly exposed reef...Yeah. That was probably the longest 2 hours of my life...and well worth every infected coral cut I received on that trip!

(Black Tip Reef Sharks...Image by gyerks)

And years later, I found myself in the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta after a talk at reef aquarium conference, a licensed SCUBA diver, given a free pass to "swim with the sharks" in their 6,000,000 gallon, 30-foot deep aquarium. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, the main attractions were the aquarium's Whale Sharks, which are truly the fish world's equivalent of a stuffed plush toy, but there were a lot of other sharks in there without the cozy rep. It was a cool experience, swimming with an assortment of fishes which, let's be honest, if they weren't literally "stuffed to the gills" like aquatic pampered poodles by diligent husbandry staff, would be probably enjoying the thought of snacking on a few hapless, neoprene-clad divers slogging about in their tank- the human equivalent of a sushi bar...Yeah. 

So I understand what it feels like to be...hunted!

(Oh, and to the reader on tumblr who wrote that "A recent article ( in this blog) talked about sharks wanting to eat people! Entirely false."- do you understand that this an attempt to make my point while being humorous? And yeah, dude (?)-although sharks are not the terrors Hollywood and pop culture likes to portray them as...and they don't try to "eat people"- they can and do attack and bite people on a fairly regular basis- they are predators, and we're invading their world. And people have been eaten. Not too many...but it has happened. They need to be respected and given a wide berth. Disagree? Please feel free to go for a splashy little swim out near Monterey Bay in California after a Great White sighting, if you are so confident of this...In California alone since 1900, there have been 187 unprovoked shark attacks. Sooo..please don't think I'm trying to spread myths here...just trying to make a point..Sorry you didn't care for the presentation...And yes, I read comments! )

And this mindset has denied me the experience of keeping some cool fishes that I really liked, such as certain puffers, Oscars, and the uber-cool Amazon Leaf Fish- one that I almost broke my code to try and keep recently.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have attempted to keep carnivores before, albeit with mixed results. I can embarrassingly recall this experience: Several years back, I stupidly purchased a Frogfish, Antennarius maculatus- a decidedly sedate, patient, and comical-looking marine ambush predator. He was pastel yellow-orange, like 2" long, and lived in a little nano-sized aquarium, and I'd have to feed him...gulp- "feeder guppies"- at least for a time, so my enabling friends told me, until he "adapted to frozen food." Have you ever tried to "train" a goddamn ambush predator to eat frozen food? Really? The frogfish will stay in one spot- perfectly still- for like 2 days! Insanely patient. Or really optimistic. Or maybe just lazy (I do respect that). It looks to me just like a McDonalds "Chicken McNugget",  and has the ability to change it's color to blend into the any color it needs to.

And of course, my friends were like, "Yeah, just outfit your tank in any color you want..he'll change!" So, like any self-respecting fish geek, I excitedly outfitted my little tank with the most horrific fluorescent pink and purple gravel, Clear glass "rocks", and awful, garish plastic plants that even "Sponge Bob" would have issues with, hoping that my little guy would go 1980's "Dayglo Pink" or whatever, to camouflage himself. And of course, my fish attained a lovely "puke grey" color and stayed that way.  Forever. And sadly, "Nugget" lived a rather short life under my care, less than a year- failing to really "adapt" to taking frozen food, and barely eating any live food, for that matter. A bad outcome that, despite the homorous aspects...really sucked.

So, that may have been the extreme on the bad end of the spectrum, but it's just sort of my view on predatory fish: They're just not for me. Now, I know, some nerd out there is going to tell me that my "Flame Tetras" are technically carnivores, because they eat flies and aquatic insects and...I know, nerd...that's not what we're getting at here! I'm talking about fish that you (in theory) are supposed to feed other fishes as their primary diet...and I can't seem to get over that fact. 

I really, really, really want to keep a group of Amazon Leaf Fish in my leaf litter aquarium; I think it would be the coolest display ever. Of course, I also think that, based on past experience with specialty feeders, it would be incredibly difficult to get these fish to eat anything, even live fishes, in a large leaf litter display. Let me re-phrase that: "Live fishes that are INTENDED to be food!" I'm sure they'd  efficiently and happily dispatch rare characins and other small, treasured fishes like nobody's business, yet wouldn't touch the "feeder guppies" that would be grudgingly supplied to them...I totally see it unfolding that way.

(Amazon Leaf Fish, Monocirrhus polyacanthus by my mentor, Bob Fenner)

See? That's how I talk myself out of stuff. I know and admit freely that I don't want to put the work in, trying to feed live fishes to even a personally much-admired, much desired fish!

And I suppose, that's a form of wisdom or at least, self-awareness as a hobbyist: Knowing that you don't have the "fortitude" to take on a project. It's a very good attribute to have as a fish geek.

So, getting back to carnivorous fishes...Those of you who keep them, and keep them well- I admire you. Me, I'm just not into it. I'm the guy who flips the channel when the BBC documentaries about the animals of the Serengeti Plain comes on, and you'll have that inevitable scene of the Cheetah taking down a baby Impala or whatever...

Yeah. Can't do it.

But a mosquito larvae, brine shrimp or a, juvenile, or adult...not a problem. Fish food.

And of course, being only "quasi-vegan" (like pretty much everyone else here in L.A.), I'm totally fine indulging in sushi, seafood, and rarely, a steak. as long as I don't have to see it being killed, I'm cool with it.


What a dichotomy of inconsistency I am!

So, that's my (weak) "Case against carnivores." 

But man, those Pike Chiclids are so cool!


Until next time. Stay true to your values, no matter how warped they are. Stay consistent..or inconsistent. Stay bold. Stay adventurous.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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